Thursday, May 8, 2014

Charlie & Jack

Jack & Charlie

In January of 2011 we went to pick up a little West Highland Terrier puppy which we named Charlie.  Little Charlie quickly became a part of our life (and like a child to us, in some ways).  Early in 2014 we began to look for a sibling for Charlie.  Rather than a puppy, we began to search with Cairn Rescue to see if we could find the right dog.  We found a little bridle Cairn in Milwaukee.  He had been found homeless on the streets of Kankakee.  Because of food aggression, the shelter thought he needed special attention and called Cairn Rescue USA.  Fast forward to Valentines Day (February 14) 2014.  We made a long drive to Milwaukee to pick up "Gizmo," we arrived home around midnight after a very long day.  Two dogs together for the first time was a little overwhelming, but we thought we'd be able settle them in.  No way.  Eventually I had to take the new dog, which we named "Jack" to the guest room and Carrie stayed with Charlie in the master bedroom.  It was a sleepless night.  Over the next few days we couldn't leave them together.  They fought often and fierce.  I was beginning to doubt  and wondered if we had made a terrible mistake and whether there was any hope the situation would improve.
It turns out that these dogs, over just a couple of weeks, would come to be best friends.  They are seldom in a different room from one another and they love to play.  It turns out that two very different personalities -enemies nearly, when forced together, actually became friends.

There are too many people with which I have failed to become friends and many more with which I have been rude or grouchy.  I wonder what I've missed out on with those people.  I wonder how many fruitful and life-giving relationships I have lost because I failed to see possibility.

My relationship with God was almost a non-starter.  I was hostile toward God and wanted nothing to do with faith.  Yet, I ended up at a campus ministry and, so, like these dogs:  stuck in the same house with one I didn't want to be near.  Like Jack and Charlie, though, I came to appreciate God and grew in relationship.
Have you noticed that God is in your midst calling you into relationship?  Have you opened yourself to the possibility to growing deeper-in-love with God?  You may find that it changes your life for the better.


Friday, April 18, 2014

A Good Friday Devotion: The Weeping Women of Jerusalem

The Weeping Women: a Holy Week Devotion

Luke 23: 26-34 (CEB)
As they led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a man from Cyrene, who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on his back and made him carry it behind Jesus. A huge crowd of people followed Jesus, including women, who were mourning and wailing for him. Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. The time will come when they will say, ‘Happy are those who are unable to become pregnant, the wombs that never gave birth, and the breasts that never nursed a child.’ Then they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

On Good Friday two thousand years ago Jesus was led through the streets of Jerusalem to his death upon a cross. As he walked crowds gathered. Yet amongst these crowds, his disciples, friends and family were nowhere to be seen. He was surrounded instead by strangers. Strangers who lined the roads. A stranger who was forced to carry the cross. A group of strange unnamed women from Jerusalem. These women came to mourn. They followed Christ to Golgotha wailing and beating their breasts. But who where these women? Why did they weep so? 

Perhaps news of Jesus had long ago reached these women. Perhaps they had heard the stories of Jesus and how he was willing to talk with, to touch, to heal, and to forgive other women just like themselves. Among them may have been women suffering from malnutrition and illness who struggled to support their growing families year after year and had heard of this man who gave strength and healing to Simon’-Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39). Some may have been destitute widows forced to bury their children, in need of hope; these women may have heard of some strange events that had occurred in the far away city of Nain (Luke 7:11-17).  Still others may have been outcasts, declared unclean because of some sort of gynecological problem, they would have yearned for a human touch that could heal their body and restore their honor (Luke 8:40-48). Whatever these women’s specific situations one thing is certain; they lived in dangerous times. These women, valued for their ability to bare children would risk death year-after-year as they labored in unsanitary conditions with few resources. They would watch sisters die in childbirth. They would bury their children. They would stay up nights wondering how they were to feed their families. They may have had little hope that their children’s lives would be any better then their own. 

The stories of Jesus may have reached them and given them hope. As he was led to his death, they may have seen this as their last chance to experience his healing touch. Strangely, when he encounters these women Jesus does not offer them healing. Instead he hears them cry for him and in turn laments their fate saying, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. The time will come when they will say, ‘Happy are those who are unable to become pregnant, the wombs that never gave birth, and the breasts that never nursed a child.’…” 

In the years following Jesus’ crucifixion the economy in Judea would continue to decline, Roman oppression would intensify and unrest would grow leading to an eventual revolt: that Jewish revolt would be crushed, the temple destroyed and the people sent into exile. Jesus may have foreseen such events when speaking to the women. He knew that any life they would bring into the world would likely know only suffering and death. Women at that time were forced to bare children year after year whom they could not support. They were forced to raise children who would only know war. Jesus spoke these words to the women, declaring that no woman should have to struggle to feed ever growing families. Jesus spoke these words to the women, declaring that no women should have to give birth to children which she will be forced to bury. Jesus spoke these words to the women, declaring that no woman should have die simply so another could know life.

On Good Friday two thousand years ago, Jesus died that we might live. On his way to that death he spoke to the women of Jerusalem who followed him to the cross. Now, two thousand years later women are still mourning and wailing. Now, two thousand years after Christ’s crucifixion women are still going to the cross; dying that others may live. Every year, 4 million children die within a month of birth. Every two minutes somewhere in the world, a woman dies of compilations during pregnancy or childbirth. These deaths are largely preventable. In Christ’s name, we can offer these weeping woman a healing touch, simply by ensuring they have control over their own bodies. When a woman delays pregnancy at least two years after the birth of her last child, she is much more likely to have a healthy pregnancy and birth. When women can control the timing and spacing of their children, they can better ensure the health of each child.

This Good Friday, let us listen to the cries of women. Let us share the hope Jesus offered so many of the women he encountered: opportunities for strength and healing, access to medical care and family planning, and hope that their children’s lives will be better than their own. By helping women control the timing and spacing of pregnancy we can honor the women of Jerusalem. By ensuring that women who want it have access to the methods that will help them control the timing and spacing of their pregnancies we can honor Christ’s life and death. 

Quick Facts about Maternal Health

  • Globally, every two minutes a woman dies due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth.
  • Nearly all of the 287, 000 maternal deaths each year occur in the developing world.
  • Annually 4 million infants die within a month of being born. When a mother dies, it dramatically increases the risk of death for her baby.
  • Women account for nearly half of all people living with HIV and are disproportionately affected by new infections. This could be reduced if women and men had access to contraception.
  • When a woman delays pregnancy at least two years after the birth of her last child, she is much more likely to have a healthy pregnancy and birth.
  • Healthy mothers have healthy babies. Spacing children lowers the risk of infant mortality. Unmet need for family planning affects many women and families.
  • Worldwide there are more than 222 million women who would like to avoid pregnancy but lack a family planning method.
  • As a result, there are more than 80 million unintended pregnancies each year. More than half result in abortion, many of them under illegal and unsafe conditions.
  • Investing in family planning reduces unintended pregnancy and increases health for women and children.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Warm Weather & Raised Spirits

As I feel the longer days, the warmer weather, and the abundant life of birds flying and people walking their dogs I can’t help but feel...lighter, happier.  Even in the midst of miscarriage, Carrie and I were able to go camping one evening in mid-May and have been taking the dog on very enjoyable, long walks.  Although we found ourselves in the midst of a struggle, the season lightened our load, I think.
I suspect that it wasn’t just the weather.  It was also activity.  This is confirmed by the CDC, which reports:
...Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits....
When I’m feeling upset, depressed, or just a little bored or sad, my body tricks me.  My body ‘tells me’ that I want to sit in front of the tv or eat my feelings or mope about, but what my body wants will just make my mood worse.  I have found that if I get up off the couch and take a walk, even the shortest little walk around the block, my mood will improve and I will feel mentally, physically, and spiritually better than I did before.
My hope for all the people of this church is that we would take advantage of the beautiful weather, but not just watch it through the window.  Let’s find safe and age-appropriate avenues for holistically strengthening our health with a little bit of activity.


*This blog has been reprinted from the Normal First United Methodist Church's June Newsletter.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Confused about Race.

I grew up in a small town which was very insulated.  It was a predominately white town in a predominately white county.  Actually, not just predominately...overwhelmingly: the county is currently a little over 97% white and I'm guessing that figure is down from when I lived there.  I am proud to say that my parents, in that environment, tried to instill tolerance for people unlike me.  In the process of attempting to instill tolerance, I heard statements like, "There is no difference between us and black people."

When I arrived in Carbondale at Southern Illinois University I was confronted by  evidence that proved those statements fallacious.  For instance, the suitemates assigned to share a bathroom with me and my roommate were big, black guys from the South side of Chicago who sold drugs out of their room.  These people were not the same as me and they were reinforcing every stereotype that my parents had discounted.

During that first year of college I began to experience race in a different way.  It was uncomfortable and troubling.  At times, it seemed, the things I had been taught in childhood were lies told out of ignorance.  Fortunately, these uncomfortable new truths were not the only thing forming me.

During the course of that first year, and all of my college career, actually, I also met black folk and people of many other ethnicities/cultures who were different in good exceptional ways.  I became close friends with a strong black woman who was a single mother who had come back to school to work on her PhD.  Not only was she caring for her own daughter, but she had taken in her infant nephew who did not have a stable home.  She was a hard-worker, she was dedicated to her family, she was incredibly smart and she was compassionate: I could understand those things. Another friendship that developed over time was a man, about my age, who is also, now, a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  But, unlike me, he was black, from the South, from an urban area, and had sweet dreadlocks.  He was so much unlike me in several ways, yet when together we could stay up half the night, with a group of friends, talking about culture, politics, church, and theology.

These relationships were teaching me that I could experience, and, even, celebrate cultural differences and find meaningful commonalities.  It isn't about being the same or different, it is about growing in relationship and celebrating who we are and how we are in relationship with other people.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Where Have All The Students Gone?

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This song has been in my head most of the afternoon.  Not sure why this song popped in my head on this day...but, then, as I looked out my office window I began to think about the emptiness of our campus.  With classes out and students on break, it is eerily quiet in the student center, on the quad and even around town.

I have occasionally heard 'townies' (as we used to call them when I was in school and I guess that includes me, now) complain about the students.  I have experienced some of those frustrations, too, for sure.  There were times during move-in and move-out weekends that I sighed with disgust as I navigated traffic.  My wife and I, while living in Pontiac, once made the mistake of going to Station 220 on a parent's weekend and found ourselves crammed into a noisy dining room.  And, yes, I have felt disdain when I find nowhere to park or students walking on a street or through a parking lot in a way that leaves it impassable.

Yet, the experience of being on campus is predominately a good experience, for me.  Walking across the quad takes me back to my own days of going to class (or not going, as the case might have been).  When I go to lunch at the Bone Student Center and see the students and feel the energy of the place, it energizes me.  When I meet with students over in the Campus CafĂ© at Heartland I am amazed by the depth of community that exists there.  Most importantly, being on these campuses makes me feel younger than I really am.

I suspect that having a major University and Community College has had a profound affect on this community in ways we will never even know.  I think, though, it keeps us young and vital (and thinking) in ways we wouldn't be otherwise.  First United Methodist Church, I am very sure, is affected.  Perhaps we are affected, because of our proximity, even more than most of the surrounding community.   For this pastor, I am most impressed by the possibilities that exist here on campus in communications, programs, and worship: for which most United Methodist Churches would be envious.

I am thrilled to live in Normal, to be in a community with Heartland, Illinois State, and nearby to Illinois Wesleyan (in Bloomington).  I think that the students and faculty (and wider community) have enriched me already and I look forward to the ministry to come!  So, today, as I look outside my window and listen to a Peter, Paul and Mary song playing on a loop in my head,  I wonder with longing, "where have all the students gone?"


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Personal Experience

I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church and how we become pastors is way different than in other denominations.  After seminary I was "commissioned."  If you don't know what that means...well, you are in good company: join those of us in the United Methodist ministry process.  It is usually defined by what it isn't.  What we know is that commissioning gives us the authority of pastors, but it is not ordination.  Two years after being commissioned can then come ordination.  In our system, that gives a pastor "tenure," you could say.

Okay, I share all of that in order to explain that I am commissioned as a pastor in the church, currently, and next year I hope to be ordained.  Before being ordained, though, a pastor is required to go through Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in order to hone pastoral care skills.

I have just concluded my chaplaincy internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center.  It was twelve weeks that was intense.  It was emotionally intense as the process forced us to delve into our pasts and innermost feelings.  It was also intense because I was burning the candle at both ends and exhausted as I tried to be in two places at once:  church and hospital.

I hope that as I come come through this week I can begin feeling "caught up" and "back-on-track."  Rather than an intense feeling of disorganization and chaos, I hope that my focus and commitment to ministry is the part of my life where I will experience intensity.  So that is the course I am on now as I look back on CPE and look forward to full-time and fully focused church ministry!


The above video was produced by Scott Carnes, April 2013.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Moments of Panic

// This blog post is mirrored, here, from my scripture blog:  \\

Scripture: Luke 2:41-52 (CEB)

"...but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple."  - Luke 2:43b-46

About a year ago I had a 'moment of panic.'  I had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, I was working with two families experiencing loss, and the Senior Pastor at my church was about to leave on vacation for a month.  When I got to Christmas Eve at my church in Pontiac and as I shook hands and greeted people I began to feel overwhelmed.  What was truly overwhelming was the way in which person-after-person cocked their heads to say, "are you okay?"

Each thing on its own would have been fine, but this perfect storm hit that night.  During that service as I sat up front, when my responsibilities were concluded and my mind drifted a bit, it all washed over me.  I knew I was going to fall apart right in front of the entire church.  I didn't.  I made it to the back steps of the church instead of greeting people and I fell completely apart crying. I sobbed, alone, in the dark for the longest time.  I collapsed in a 'moment of panic.'

Have you ever had a moment of panic?  It is different for everyone, but I suspect most of us have felt a moment like that.  It could be a missing child, a confrontation, a call from a creditor when you have no money to pay, legal trouble, abuse, job loss, divorce...  I don't know what you have experienced (or maybe you are experiencing), but I suspect this is a pretty universal feeling.

In the scripture above,  Mary must have found herself in a moment of panic.  I can almost see it and hear it:  She is in the midst of a loud parade heading home.  There she stands with voices, laughter, and rejoicing as her community heads home from the festival. Can you imagine how the world must have become muted and far-off when she had her moment of panic? Can you imagine how her stomach must have twisted and fallen when she realized her son was not in this large parade of safety and happiness?

In a moment of panic: Mary & Joseph must have been frantic and must have hurried back to Jerusalem.  They found the boy, feeling at home, in the temple challenging others and being challenged, himself.  Yet, the story doesn’t end when the young Jesus is found. The story is about more than a young boy being physically found by his parents.

This story is about a messiah who took Mary and Joseph’s moment of panic and turned it into something else. They worried for their little boy's well-being, but the Christ child saw it differently:  He asks, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They had a moment of panic, but young Jesus turned it into a moment of clarity.

I wonder, though, it you'll allow me to go off-point for a moment.  I want to talk about where this all happened.  It’s the end of a festival.  When Mary & Joseph return the temple must have been nearly empty compared to a day earlier.  For us, on the week after Christmas it isn't much different: Christmas eve and Christmas Day have come and gone; Warm feelings were felt as we sang ‘silent night’ on xmas eve; and then everyone returns home.  The temple...the empty.

The good news is that our God can take a quiet temple and turn it into a place of growth and faith.  For us, today, this text reminds us that when we face a moment of panic, pain, grief, trouble, strife...when the world becomes muted and joy seems distant...we are to face that panic and return to the temple.

We are to return to our community of faith and when we come to the otherside of our trouble, Christ may just help us see the world differently.  Our panic and trouble can become a growing faith: through scripture, challenging questions, the people around us, and, of course, God’s Holy Spirit.

Christ takes our human worries and pain and asks us to look at the world from another perspective.  We are shaken by our pain & worry, but God helps us to see more clearly.

For me on that Christmas Eve that filled me with so much anxiety? I don’t know if I made it about Christ the way I should have.  I don’t know what I did right or what I did wrong.  And am sure that my life is no more valuable than others who didn’t survive when confronted by illness.

But I know with certainty that I grew and, as I look back, I see that others grew out of my 'moment of panic'.  I also know that my community of faith and my God: loved me, challenged me, prayed with me, and, ultimately, changed me.

I do know that on the other side of my own “moment of panic” I see the world differently and, I hope that,  I love more fully.  Oh, I’m not perfect - not even close.  I'm not even sure if I'm better than I was.  God doesn’t promise that, but in my moment of panic and struggle: God & my community helped me through that terrible time.  They helped me to look back with clarity and insight.

When you find yourself struggling, I want you to know that church should be a place to struggle.  When you feel lost or broken, I want you to know that you can be found.  When the world has taken something from you, or you feel loss: know that you can gain something from a community of people who live out their faith and, of course, from your God.

In your moments of panic and trouble.  Go with haste to your true home.  Find a church that cares and allows you room to struggle and grow.  I know you would enjoy mine...